U.S. Syria Relations Cozy: Neutralizing Israel

Syrian president Bashar Assad has invited President Obama to visit Damascus, in the wake of a U.S.-Saudi press for Syria to “demarcate” its border with Lebanon. By marking the Syrian border and giving up its claims to Shaba Farms, also known as Mount Dov, and placing Mount Dov inside Lebanon’s borders, the reasoning is that Israel will have no rationale to claim the militarily strategic Mount Dov, and so Hizbullah will also have no reason to attack Israel. The move is on to neutralize Israel.

U.S. Syria Relations Cozy: Bashar Assad with U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi

It’s a fantasy – it’s not going to happen.

For those who have forgotten, Israel liberated Mount Dov from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Lebanon claims that Mount Dov belongs to it, and Hezbullah uses Israel’s ‘occupation’ of Mount Dov as proof that Israel is ‘occupying’ ‘Lebanese territory’ thereby justifying its existence in Lebanon. The US claims that if Syria demarcates its border with Lebanon, and puts Mount Dov on the Lebanese side of the border, it will take away Hezbullah’s raison d’etre (see map below).

It’s a bit shocking to know that in 2009, there are countries without official borders.

Israel took over the area in 1967 and sees it as part of the Golan Heights. The UN accepted this position following the IDF’s pullout from Lebanon in May 2000 but Hezbollah and Lebanon claim that this is Lebanese territory still under Israeli occupation.

From Israel’s long-time point-of-view, Shaba Farms (Mount Dov) has been off the table for discussion.


What are the issues?

In the 1923 Anglo-French Demarcation Agreement, which set the borders between the British and French mandates in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, the area was included in Syria. The maps of the 1949 Israeli-Syrian Armistice Agreements similarly designated the area as Syrian.

In the 1967 Six Day War, the farms were occupied by the IDF as part of its conquest of the Golan Heights. Lebanon was not involved in that war, and Israel did not engage in any fighting against it.

At that time, no one – neither Syria nor Lebanon – claimed that the area was Lebanese.

IN THE negotiations leading to the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Lebanon for the first time raised its claim to the farms, but based on all previous historical documents and maps, the UN sided with the Israeli version, i.e. that this was Syrian territory and subject to future Israeli-Syrian negotiations. The Lebanese claim was used by Hizbullah to continue its resistance to “Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

At the time of the 2000 Israeli withdrawal the UN asked Syria about its position on the issue. Damascus was in a quandary: On the one hand, this was obviously Syrian territory; on the other, if Syria conceded that the farms belong to Lebanon, there might be a chance of getting one more sliver of Arab territory out of Israeli hands.

Syria thus responded that whatever its former claims to the Shaba Farms, it now agreed to cede them to Lebanon.

But when the UN asked Damascus for a formal document stating that the area had indeed been legally transferred to Lebanon, Syria balked – and it has still not supplied such a document.

The short story is that Syria has refused to recognize Lebanon as a sovereign state. Not until this year did Syria appoint it’s first ever ambassador to Beirut. At the same time, Lebanon sent its first ambassador to Syria.

Damascus still has powerful allies in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shi’ite party with a powerful guerrilla army.

The U.S. has pressured Israel to withdraw from Mount Dov for years.

The area is a 100 square mile parcel of land located at the foot of Mount Hermon where the Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli borders meet. Israel took control of the area after the Six Day War in 1967, and since then has built up a number of military outposts on the strategic hills.

Israel’s indefensible borders on all sides have led to the necessary land-grabs gained in the 1967 war. How can you defend your people when your enemies refuse to respect your border towns? This 2006 report describes the importance of not letting your enemy bite at your heels:

The drive up to the top of Mt. Dov on Wednesday is done along a narrow and winding road, accessible only in armored vehicles, a memory of Hizbullah’s incessant shelling of IDF outposts there not so long ago.

The Gladiola outpost is situated just over the Lebanese village of Shuba with a clear view of Ghajar, as well. Soldiers man heavily-fortified positions along the ridge, keeping an eye on the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) patrols below.

Strangely enough, during the war this summer, the Mt. Dov area was quiet, and saw nearly no fighting. According to the officer, the explanation is simple – Hizbullah does not attack military bases, since they know that in such a situation they will lose.

The importance of the area to Israel is clear:

Since the war in Lebanon, the IDF has invested millions of shekels in fixing the infrastructure along the mountain – from repaving the winding road to installing new antennas and surveillance equipment.

The officer said the soldiers stationed in the series of outposts along the mountain play a key role in assisting the IDF to form accurate assessments of Hizbullah’s plans.

The purpose of the powerful Hizbullah in Lebanon is to protest the Mount Dov possession by Israel, claiming that the land belongs to Lebanon.

Hizbullah’s attempt to claim sovereignty of Mt. Dov is because the group needs an excuse for its existence,” he said. “Otherwise, they are worthless.”

Israel Matzav questions any notion of Syria’s abandonment of Hizbullah and says this:

Engagement’ is one thing and giving up real assets (even if the asset is only a claim) is something else. Mount Dov is a very strategic point that is used for military purposes by Israel.

Why would the Syrians want to let Lebanon have it?

What is Lebanon giving them in return?

…even if Israel were to hand Mount Dov over to Lebanon tomorrow, Hezbullah would continue to exist and would continue to charge Israel with ‘occupying Lebanese territory.’

So what is the U.S. doing? Should Syria mark their border and place Mount Dov in Lebanon’s hands, and Israel acknowledge that border and abandon the area, how can Israel be rightly convinced that the position would not once again be used against the people of Israel? Could a treaty between Israel and Syria be achieved? Would such a treaty mean safety for Israel? There is no way for Israel to be rightly convinced. This has been a U.S. endeavor through the Bush years. The U.S. should not ask Israel to enter into such an agreement. Afterall, had Israel’s neighbors respected their sovereignty, the 1967 War would not have happened.

I believe that if the U.S. and the free world would wholeheartedly and very publicly back Israel, Hamas and Hizbullah would be defeated by the very notion that the west would assist Israel’s defense of its own borders. It’s very simple. Actively support the right of the Israeli people to exist…but rather than follow such a justifiable position, we quake at the wrath of the Muslim world. The thing we seem to ignore is that living inside that Muslim world is a sovereign non-Muslim nation. Where is the justification for the Muslim rejection of these people?